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1 Dealing with Debt

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1. Introduction

2. Rent or mortgage payment problems

3. Council Tax bill problems

4. Hire Purchase (HP) problems

5. Gas, electricity and phone bills

6. Water bills

7. Loan and credit problems

8. What creditors can do to get their money

9. Going to court

10. Dealing with many debts

11. Dealing with bailiffs

With most debts, bailiffs are involved only if you can't come to an arrangement to repay a creditors, and then only after your case has been to court. 

However, this doesn't apply to Inland Revenue bailiffs and VAT bailiffs. Once bailiffs are involved it can be difficult to negotiate with them. Bailiffs usually work by threatening to take your possessions to persuade you to pay what you owe, or taking and selling things you own to repay your debt.

Although you may believe bailiffs are allowed to force their way into your home, and some bailiffs may give you this impression, this is not normally the case.  They  may force their way into your home only if they have been inside your home for the same debt on an earlier occasion.

If you do let a bailiff into your home, they will usually take 'walking possession' of some of your belongings. This means that if you cannot negotiate acceptable payments, with the bailiff, or you miss payments that you have agreed with the bailiff they can legally force entry into your home and take those items away. So if you never let the bailiff into your home, they will never be able to take 'walking possession' of your belongings inside it. However, they will be able to take belongings outside your home (a car, for example).

For most types of debt, 'basic household items' can't be taken away by a bailiff. This includes a bed, cooker, fridge and most furniture, but not, for example, a television or other less necessary items.

County court bailiffs
If you have a county court judgment (CCJ) and you don't make the payments as ordered, the creditor can ask the court to issue a 'warrant of execution'. This will involve county court bailiffs. But you can ask the court to stop them by filling in a form at your local county court, with a statement about what you can afford to pay.

County court bailiffs also carry out evictions after possession proceedings (see 'Rent or mortgage payment problems'). This is the main situation in which you cannot physically stop bailiffs from coming into your home, but again you can ask the court to do so.

Debt collectors
It's important to realise that debt collectors are not the same as bailiffs.  Debt collectors cannot take any direct action against you, apart from asking you to pay.  If you believe a debt collector is harassing you, or putting undue pressure on you to pay, contact the trading standards department at your local council.  If you are being physically threatened, contact the police.

Bailiffs and the Human Rights Act
The Human Rights Act, is a relatively new law, and it may mean bailiffs are used less frequently. Part of the Act protects your right to 'peaceful enjoyment of possessions and respect for your privacy, family life and home'.

In practice, this should mean that courts and public authorities use bailiffs as a last resort, and should consider using less intrusive and distressing ways of getting you to pay what you owe. These include:

  • benefit deductions;
  • attachment of earnings; and
  • voluntary payment arrangements.

There is a separate Community Legal Service leaflet in this series, 'The Human Rights Act', which explains how the Act works and what it means for you.

12. Other legal protection if you are in debt

13. When you can be sent to prison for your debts

14. Terms used when dealing with debt

15. Further help

16. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with Birmingham Settlement.

The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.

Leaflet Version: April 2019

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